How These Reports Confirm Some Unfortunate Truths

Percentage_DigitalWith four operas to learn for work later this year and upcoming concerts, I wasn’t planning to write another post this month, but two disjunct articles I read this week captured my attention if only because they confirmed what is known, but often pushed under the metaphorical carpet due to their indigestiblity in the classical music industry.

The first is an excellent piece from Arts Professional (22 February) entitled ‘Senior arts staff sidelining digital work, research finds’. In summary, the piece finds that digital skills are spread thin in cultural organisations with only one in six of those in the most senior strategic roles identifying web or digital activity as forming a part of their work.

Citing the ArtsPay 2018 survey, senior strategic role employees in cultural organisations have correspondingly less connection with digital and web initiatives than early and mid-career level employees – and the latter’s efforts, collectively, representing on average only 33.5% of total work responsibilities.

The survey further found that only 6% of cultural organisation employees are primarily concerned with developing work across all digital platforms. The findings align with those of a 2017 Nesta survey, in which only 19% of respondents were confident that most of their senior management were knowledgeable about digital technologies, and only 16% were clear that coming up with new digital ideas was a priority for the senior team [Italics mine].

So what do senior strategic roles spend their time doing.  Here’s the graph:


Keeping in mind the above, here are the statistics that really matter [Italics mine]:

The majority of digital activity is taking place in marketing departments. 74% of respondents for whom marketing is the main focus of their role said their work included web/digital activity – a proportion that holds true across early career, mid-level and senior marketing roles. This is also consistent with Nesta’s 2017 research, which found that the most advanced digital skills in arts organisations are in marketing.

What is critical about this?  Observedly, less than a quarter (24%) of those whose primary roles were in artistic direction, programming or curation said web/digital formed a part of their work.

Why is this so important to highlight?  Given the way that millenials and post-millenials engage with myriad options across the cultural sector (if they do at all) the focus of what they see is about selling – as opposed to curating content to engage them toward converting them to accepting the ‘selling’ proposition. Continue Reading →

Misunderstanding Opera at The Management Level

Osborne_OperaIn a recent online article at the wfmt radio website, I read this article ostensibly announcing the appointment of Ashley Magnus as the new General Director at Chicago Opera Theater.  COT is perhaps best known for the tenure of the brilliant general director, Brian Dickie, from 1999-2012.

At a time when my commercial company, Quill & Quaver Associates, in New York is undertaking a huge project in storyworld design for engaging audiences with Opera, I find aspects of Ms. Magnus’s sentiment in respect to the travails of Opera to wrankle, especially her expressed; and inaccurate, understanding of Opera historically as “The old school, ‘Gods and men’ – scale epic works” (sic.).

Maybe she has  been misquoted or something said taken out of context?  Who knows, but the current challenges around declining audience attendance for Opera has nothing whatsoever to do with the works that comprise the canon.  Moreover, does Ms. Magnus really think that “…love stories of human experiences that I have found in contemporary works” only exist in Contemporary Opera? Or, perhaps she doesn’t actually know the canon well enough? Continue Reading →

Why We Are Failing Australian Musical Theatre Writers

Writing_MusicI’m acutally writing this post to organise some thoughts I have been asked to contribute to a forthcoming new book on musical theatre.  This post could easily become a tome comparable to the eponymous ‘White Pages’ phone books of yesteryear if I’m not careful, as the magnitude of problem for Australian musical theatre writers is sizeable indeed.

If you consider that there is nowhere in Australia to study musical theatre writing, whether as a school student or at the tertiary level in an organised, systematic manner, you get a fast walk-up to the ennui that perpetuates our educational institutions in respect to this shortcoming.

But, even if we did have organised training in place, who would teach it?  Who has a track record of having written and had produced musicals on Broadway or London’s West End?  Tim Minchin or Eddie Perfect?  I don’t think so, even though these guys are brilliant songwriters.

You see, it isn’t about how a good a songwriter or composer/lyricist you are, it’s about how musicals are made!

And without that experience and knowledge,  you just don’t know what the rules of the game are.  And there are rules – a sort of unspoken code-of-practice that everybody in the industry understands but never quite articulates or clarifies to outsiders. Continue Reading →

Bachtrack – The Year in Statistics: Why Opera is Failing & The Need For Relevance

This_Why_You_FaiSimply put – Opera is in trouble.  Yes, yes, I know you’ve read such leaders before, but these latest infographics from Bachtrack (go to the downloadable link at the bottom of the Bachtrack page) are, in all respects, damning.


©2018 Bachtrack


©2018 Bachtrack

Whereas, we are all familiar with the disparaging quotes about statistics such as, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” commonly attributed to either Mark Twain or Disraeli,  it’s hard to refute these simple numbers to show that a significant statistical percentage of opera companies are complicit in hastening the demise of this artform.

You cannot skirt around the fact; irrespective of the protestations and excuses commonly offered up by General Directors (or their equivalent in different countries) that a diet of only Verdi, Puccini and Mozart – accounting for 33% of all Opera presented – is untenable in 2019!

These infographics from Bachtrack would have been equally enlightening if they had showed the 20 least operas performed in 2018, as statistics on these would probably point to companies and works that are deserved of more attention.

Cases to highlight the current paucity of innovation in Opera production choices would be Conrad Osborne’s recent article about the demise in productions of Gounod’s Faust in the latter half of the 20th-Century (at least at the MET). In no respects is Gounod’s masterpiece a curio to be heard once in a blue-moon. It is simply a case that it has, for whatever reason, fallen out of favour in New York. But, more importantly, why does the inexplicable demise of a ‘Faust’ consequently subject audiences to yet another ‘Bohème’ or ‘Traviata’ as probable (although not exclusively so) production alternatives?

Conversely, innovation in opera production in Europe is omnipresent. Let’s take the offerings available on Operavision as one example. In January alone you could delve into the incredible Káta Kabanová by Janácek; Libuše by Smetana or Korngold’s sublime Die tote Stadt as just a small selection of operas free to watch on-demand.  None of these three operas made Bachtrack’s Top 20 list.  Why, when all of these operas embody qualities that make them utterly producible on any given day?

Osborne implies in his informative blog that much of the repetitive offerings of the same Top 20 operas can be ascribed to a decline of mature voices with the power, resonance and depth to undertake heavier roles often required in less performed operas. Although this lack of talent depth is indisputable at the meta-level of the industry; with an increasing reliance upon, and abundance of, young singers eager for opportunities, it is too facile to suggest this is the major cause of decline in a vast number of operas being overlooked for production.

Of course the perennial argument being that if some combination of the usual top 20 suspects in any season, year-on-year, are not rolled out the likelihood of company insolvency (or some concomitant form of financial collapse) will inevitably ensue.  But this is not a reason to maintain the status quo. Continue Reading →